Planting in spring, the season of rebirth

Apr 20, 2024

Planting in spring, the season of rebirth

Apr 20, 2024

I find great pleasure in planting and growing perennials. In contrast to annuals, perennials are the vines, bushes, trees, and other plants that come back year after year.

Planting in spring, the season of rebirth, is particularly gratifying. Your new plants are joining the perennials that are waking up from their winter nap and sprouting new growth.

Recently I planted four fruit trees. They won't produce any fruit for a few years, but the anticipation will hold my interest as they establish themselves. I also planted raspberry and boysenberry vines and am already envisioning the fresh fruit they will yield in a few years.

Planting is a relatively easy process if you pay attention to a few factors, like site selection. If you plant a sun lover in a shady spot or situate a plant that needs good drainage in a low spot, you'll probably be replanting next year.

The area where I wanted to plant my fruit trees is the lowest spot on our property. After digging a hole, I saw ground water accumulating. This wasn't a game-ending discovery but rather a warning sign that I had better do something. My solution was to create a 15-inch berm as a planting site. The elevation would keep the roots out of harm's way.

Just because you've planted something doesn't mean you're done. Getting plants to grow is much more of a challenge. Perennial plants, bushes and trees require attention every year, such as pruning and fertilizing. You also need to watch for pests and diseases that could prevent your new plants from performing at their best.

In 2000 my wife and I planted a small Syrah vineyard that produced great fruit. However, a few years ago, the vineyard became infected with Pierce's disease, a bacterial malady spread by leafhoppers. We had to tear out the vines and either replant or find another use for the land.

With the vineyard gone, we had a large open field that was good only for growing weeds. In the warmer months, it required constant mowing. However, to quote Alexander Graham Bell, when one door closes another one opens.

Today, where Syrah vines once thrived, we now have 13 goats. This development is thanks to a chance meeting with a local family that had the goats but no home for them. I miss the Syrah made from our grapes, but going through a birthing season with the goats has given me a new appreciation for anyone raising livestock.

After grapevines, olive trees have been my biggest challenge. They aren't difficult to grow, but they do have some issues. I have 22 mature trees that, fortunately, don't require fertilization. I apply a few inches of compost, which doesn't cost much, and the trees are happy.

However, olive trees are susceptible to the olive fruit fly and require application of GF-120 NF Naturalyte Fruit Fly Bait to protect them. According to Napa County's agriculture commissioner, this product is the most popular and effective pesticide registered for olive fruit fly control.

A few years ago, we lost our entire olive crop to this little pest, so we are diligent about protecting our trees. Purchasing GF-120 is painful. For 22 trees I need at least two gallons, which  costs about $700. That's a giant “ouch” in my book. You need a back sprayer for application so that's yet more expense.

In 2023 we had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that we had a record olive crop and very little fruit-fly damage. The bad news was that we didn't realize the actual size of the crop until after we had picked the olives and were starting to prune the trees. That's when we saw, hidden high up in the trees, even more olives than we had already harvested. It has been painful to harvest overripe olives that immediately went into the yard-waste can.

How did that happen? For various reasons, we couldn't prune our olive trees for two years. They had become overgrown, and by overgrown, I mean way too tall and too thick with branches. There's an old saying that a sparrow should be able to fly through an olive tree. There was no chance of that with our trees. Today, thanks to a few professional pruners, almost any size bird can fly through our olive trees.

We took our olives to a local olive mill on “community day.” They were crushed for oil along with all the other olives delivered that day. We paid 85 cents a pound to mill the olives plus the cost of plastic containers, so it cost us about $300 for 3-1/2 gallons of olive oil.

Add the fruit-fly spray to that and you have some of the most expensive olive oil in existence. If we wanted to save money, we could drive to Corning and purchase a few gallons of olive oil from a local mill, then stop for a nice dinner at Buckhorn Steakhouse in Winters.

A stroll around the garden shows our perennials are waking up and ready for another year. Plants are blooming, vines are growing, and our olive trees are ready to bloom. All in all, a good spring in the garden.

Workshop:  Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a “Worm or Backyard Composting Workshop” on Saturday, April 27, from noon to 2 pm, at City of Napa Senior Center, 1500 Jefferson Street, Napa. Learn about composting in your own backyard, hot composting, cool composting, or worm composting—choose your own adventure. For those taking the backyard portion, after concluding the workshop, you may purchase a discounted compost bin for $20 (one bin per household). Worm class attendees will receive a free worm compost tool kit, including the worms that you will set up with the UC Master Gardeners to take home. Register here.

Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for “Irrigation for Low-Water Gardens” on Saturday, April 27, from 10 am to noon, at Las Flores Learning Garden, 4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Get instruction on how to create an efficient system for your garden. Presenters will also show how the drip system at the Las Flores Learning Garden was created. Register here.

Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 am until 1 pm at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa. Or send your questions to Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description.